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Review: The End We Start From Hits a Little Too Close to Home

Disaster cinema has been a fun, popular genre for decades. Films used to focus on crazy accidents or alien invasions. Now, at a time when global warming is never far from the media’s mind, disasters come from big environmental tragedies. Think, of ice caps melting, tsunamis, droughts and environmental collapse. However, almost all disaster movies, especially the post-dystopic ones, share some DNA. The survivors are few, and they instantaneously horde resources and fight others…to the death. It’s entertaining, but increasingly far-fetched, and pretty depressing (apparently, we’d ALL eat our granny on day 2 of running out of rations). This also makes each film’s message easy to dismiss, once the credits roll.

The End We Start From is a different beast. Directed by first-timer Mahalia Belo, based on the book by Megan Hunter, and adapted by Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth), it’s a smaller scale yet very real dystopian story – about the most British of climate disasters: too much rain.

The film begins with a heavily pregnant nameless heroine (Jodie Comer) dealing with crazy weather just as she goes into labour. She’s supported by partner R, (Joel Fry) but when the rains flood their nice little London house they head to higher ground, R’s parents’ place in the country. There, it becomes apparent that something sinister is happening to the entire country. The rain is at epic proportions and it leads to a full-on environmental collapse. Quickly, thousands are homeless, there’s a mass food shortage and the UK becomes a disaster zone. Tragedy forces our narrator and her newborn to head to one of the newly set up government refugee camps. While there, she meets O (Katherine Waterston) a fellow young mother trapped in this dire situation, unprepared and without a partner to help. The two form a strong bond. When the camps become unsafe, O suggests that they travel cross-country to an island utopia run by one of O’s friends. It might be too good to be true, but the narrator has no choice, and without much more than rucksacks they journey across the weather-devastated UK.

The End We Start From is an assured first-time feature, full of visual quirks. Instead of a buff action hero trying to save thousands, the story is focussed on the experience of a new mother, who is equally tough of spirit, but with a strong morality that holds firm. Belo unfolds a delicate, humanised story about inner strength and kindness, without ever making the comparisons to motherhood too overt. Comer is spectacular. She communicates her fear without raising her voice or losing her cool, the steely determination getting her through so many calamities. The supporting cast of British acting stalwarts are equally great, and the injection of the American Waterston adds a little spice. There’s also a tragic later scene involving one Benedict Cumberbatch, a welcome addition and one of the film’s producers.

Easily compared to The Road, The End We Start From has a similar feel to another ecological movie, Children of Men, that distinctly British rural spin on the world’s climate problems. It never has to push the environmental agenda, although the film can’t escape one trapping of disaster movies: covering too much territory (and time) in its 101 minutes.

If the point of The End We Start From is to show how dangerously close we are to society’s collapse, it’s spot on. But it’s the film’s quiet optimism about whether we can still survive, that makes it stand out.

The End We Start From is now in UK cinemas.

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